Brighton councillor backs plea for plain English in official reports

Posted On 10 Nov 2015 at 2:05 pm

A Brighton councillor has given his support to a hospital boss who pleaded for reports and presentations to be in plain English.

Lee Wares gave his support to the call made by Christine Farnish last week at a meeting of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust board.

He said board members had presented a report to a Brighton and Hove City Council committee in July.

Councillor Lee Wares

Councillor Lee Wares

Councillor Wares said: “The report was littered with jargon and initials as was the verbal presentation.

“During the question and answer session with councillors, I made a request asking that their reports and presentation be made using plain English.

“I specifically said that it would not matter to me if they were to treat me as a 10-year-old in the manner in which they explained the detailed and complex issues and subjects to hand – or in the future.

“There are many that do not have complete command of the English language and even fewer who have the detailed knowledge of the medical vocabulary.

“However, many of us are dependent on understanding what our medical professionals mean.

“There is a real risk that, at best, the use of jargon and initials leads to misunderstandings and, at worst, they are used to baffle and disguise underlying issues.”

Christine Farnish

Christine Farnish

The presentation was being made to the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Councillor Wares said: “Committees such as Overview and Scrutiny are time poor. There is much to cover.

“Many topics that should be addressed are at risk of not being heard while members paw over reports that take longer to understand than they should because of the language.

“Further, these are meetings attended by the public who do not have the opportunity to question the meaning of something.

“If the public cannot understand the subject, they cannot be assured that debates and decisions are reasonable and correct.

“Personally, I am not a medical professional although I invest time to understand the reports.

“Reports written in plain English are not just ‘nice to have’, they are essential to ensuring the public knows what is being discussed, that the risk of misunderstanding is removed and that decisions are based on a sound knowledge of what is being debated.

“As a committee member, it will serve to assist me in dealing with more subjects, with greater efficiency and an ability to scrutinise the facts and issues thoroughly.

“I will seek to support Christine Farnish’s quest as much as possible.”

  1. Christopher Hawtree Reply

    There are some paradoxes here.

    Cllr Wares’s phrase “time poor’ is unfortunate, very unplain English. Plain English would be “short of time”.

    As for the fact that, apparently, councillors “paw” over reports, this must confirm public suspicion about the way in which decisions are reached. Surely Reports are not best appreciated by stroking them?

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